I'm sure you've heard, as I have, people extolling the virtues of digital v. film. Many allege that film is dead. That digital is technically superior to film in every way. To them, I present this as evidence. Shot with a 20-year-old Pentax 67 that I picked up with a lens for under $400, on Ilford HP5 film, you simply could not ask for a better photo. It is as sharp a photo as you could hope for. The tonal gradations are smooooooooth and rich. I think I need a moment alone.
It's one of the sphinx women flanking the State Opera House in Budapest.
Many thanks to Panda Lab (www.pandalab.com), whom I used to use when I was just starting to shoot b&w in the mid 90's. They were the friendliest lab in Seattle, and they only did b&w. When I bought the 67 and needed to get the film developed, I looked them up, hardly daring to hope they'd weathered the storm that took down so many good labs. Not only had they weathered it, they appear to be prospering. They do everything, develop color as well as b&w, scan film, make contact sheets and work from digital files.
About an hour from Mazar-e-Sharif on a desolate, dusty dirt road lies the village of Dast-e-Shor home to refugees repatriated from Iran. The scenery reminded me of southern Saskatchewan, without the benefit of field after field of wheat.
We were visiting a vocational education site where men learn carpentry and welding, while women learn tailoring and clothing manufacture.
It was a beautiful day in the Panjshir Valley. I thought I'd work with a duotone treatment. I did the lighter areas in a yellow-brown, sepia-ish color and the shadows in a blue. I think the brown conveys some of the sense of the heat of the day and brings out the dustiness of the hillside, while the blue helps out the sky and river.
I've heard that Panjshir Province is working on developing some sort of tourism industry...if you ever have a chance, go there. It's probably the safest place in Afghanistan, maybe the world, and one of the most beautiful places on earth.
On a flight to the Panjshir Valley, we passed over the southern edge of the Hindu Kush. That rectangle on the left is someone's homestead or field, rather dramatically disrupted by the formation of a new gully. I would guess the road in the upper right will have to be rebuilt after the spring floods...assuming we get enough snow this winter for there to be spring floods.
My favorite thing in Paris? The food. This was a cheese and meat shop (honest!) in the ... who am I kidding, I don't know one arrondissement from another, but I do know that it's near a cool little fabric store that my wife spent an inordinate amount of time in. The cheeses and meats smelled delicious, but we'd already had lunch and dinner plans were set, so there was, sadly, no point to buying.
One of my favorite landscapes on the planet is the volcanic perlite that formed these cliffs about 90,000 years ago. This photo is from a sunrise shoot that I did with both my Hasselblad 501CM and my Nikon D200. It was pure joy to be out on the beach before anyone else and to be able to study the cliffs while I was shooting. This was one of the film shots, if it matters to you. It was Ilford PanF, developed in Microphen.
This is the emergency exit from the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif. It's not the smallest international airport I've ever been to (that honor goes to Uralsk International, in Kazakhstan), but it is pretty small.
Many of my friends have heard me babbling all weekend about The Plan. It's a simple plan, really...put together 60-80 photos for a sale. I'll be printing books to use as catalogues. Photos will be available in sizes from 11x14" to 20x24", including some square photos at 12x12" and 16x16". I'll also have three sets of greeting cards. Just getting the images ready has been something of a massive undertaking, using up all of my Friday and Saturday, but now the hard part's done and all I have to do is design three books and 12 cards, ship everything off for printing and hope like hell that when I have the sale people will buy them.
I don't know if you know this about me, but I love to drive on winding dirt roads going into the mountains. I particularly love it when the roads are in terrible shape and demand a 4WD. So living in a place where I can't go driving off by myself is a little painful. But I do get to take helicopter rides over those roads occasionally.
My friend Mireille (I'll tell you how to pronounce it later, give you a chance to work through it) and I were stuck at the military base at the Kandahar Airport. We got bumped from what would have been an interesting visit due to lack of space. Mireille is a Press Officer in the State Dept. Her job is to herd journalists, write exciting press releases about Embassy activities and speak officially for the Embassy. I'm sure there's more, but that's a good basic description.
This photo could be called a portrait through still life. Her world on these junkets is made of PDA, cell phone and notebook. Sometimes she's working with all three at the same time. I'm sure many journalists, press officers and publicists will see themselves in this one.
It's pronounced mi-RAY, though being French, the RAY is less emphasized than all caps might indicate.
It was a chilly, misty April day in Prague. I was full of garlic soup and Pilsener Urquell (which is an outstanding meal for such a day). The repetition of imbricated tiles grabbed my attention. I shot several versions, and this is the one I like best. The rooftops all look like they're from the 18th C or so, making for an idyllic scene.
One variation I might try with it would be to crop out the rather flat sky, make it an 8x10 format with a greater amount of contrast between the white buildings and the dark hills.
On the visit to Son Kul Lake, I saw a demonstration of how traditional Kyrgyz felt products are made. The process is laid out in some detail at my Facebook page.
Currently, this particular alakiyiz is in a box in a shipping crate somewhere in Europe. We probably won't see it again for a year, maybe two.
If you want to be notified of updates to this page, you can follow me on Twitter @neelybh and you can hit the Facebook Like button at the bottom of the right-hand column on this page.
So after last night's post, I worked a bit on this shot, and decided that I like it better.
Today's story? When we were leaving the petroglyph site, a family was setting up a picnic at the edge of the bone-dry grass. They hadn't brought cooked food, because you cook your shashlik (kebabs) at the picnic. Pre-cooked shashlik are just wrong.
Now, when I said, "at the edge of the bone-dry grass," I meant with the 4-foot-tall grass waving over top of them as they set up the stones for their fire. And look at these thistles. Do they look like they've seen water recently? So the family takes up some of the dry grass they flattened out for their picnic area and uses it as tinder.
Dry grass, once it becomes embers, floats upward. Where it impacts other dry grass. Which ignites. Which drops embers to the base of the grass. Which ignites. The wind blows a bit. And you have a prairie fire before you can say, "Crap, get the fire extinguisher."
As the family beat at the trailing edges of a rapidly growing fire, we took self-preservation in hand, hopped into our truck and sped off.
At Tamgali, there are petroglyphs showing continuous human usage of the area for at least 3000 years. Many of the symbols are very similar to those found elsewhere in the world - sun gods, antelope, man, earth mothers and so on.
Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me take my camera onto the site. Not even with the offer of paying a little extra for my entrance fee (that shocked me). So I took pictures of the dry thistles along the road.
Right outside the War College in Almaty, Kazakhstan, you'll find Panfilov Park. It commemorates Kazakhstani dead in the great wars of the Soviet Union - the Revolution and the Great Patriotic War (WWII to the West). During the Great Patriotic War a rag-tag bunch of Kazakhstani shepherds defeated a German Panzer division in defense of Volgograd or Stalingrad. The tanks were melted down to make a set of sculptures that are some of the darkest, most frightening war memorials I've ever seen. Sergeant Hulka is one of them.
I don't know how much of the above story is true. I do know this, though, the first time I saw this statue, I immediately thought of Sgt. Hulka from Stripes, and that is how I will always remember this:
"When I tell you move, you'll move fast. When I tell you to jump, you're gonna say, "How high?" And make no mistake. I don't care where you come from, I don't care what color you are, I don't care how smart you are, I don't care how dumb you are, 'cause I'm gonna teach every last one of you how to eat, sleep, walk, talk, shoot, shit like a United States soldier. Understand?"
On the road between Taneytown, MD and Littlestown, PA, there's an abandoned house that nestles in a little forest next to a stream. I found it irresistible and stopped in for about an hour of shooting one morning. Unlike most abandoned houses, it didn't have any No Trespassing signs, so I didn't worry too much about frightening the former owners or the bank.
I ended up not liking too many of my frames from that shoot, but this is one that I've been wanting to work with for some time. I'll probably play with it a lot, experimenting with burning and dodging and masking layers and some duotone colors to get just the right feel.
The litter of dead leaves and the blur from branches waving in a long exposure give the feeling of a forest where all the nymphs and dryads have died. Maybe there's a gateway to a bizarre land just behind that dark bunch on the left. No, I don't believe in supernatural entities, but myths and legends grab us and hold on, because otherwise, this is just a copse waiting for spring, and dying spirits or paths to the land of Narnia are a lot more interesting sometimes.
There are so many things to say about this photo. There's a cow in the middle of the road. Or there's a road across the prairie. Or the prairie is at 10,000 ft, and that line of hills in the distance are 16-18,000 feet high. The mountain prairies (or jailoos) of central Kyrgyzstan are among my favorite places on the planet. Although I'd go out of my mind with boredom (or perhaps not) I would love to live with the shepherds for a year and see life from their perspective.
We were about 2 weeks early for the huge party that's about to descend on the jailoo. Every summer the shepherd clans gather here for festivals, marrying off their children, trading, seeing the children they've married off and games of buzkashi (goat polo - see pictures at siananjim's travel blog). I love the idea of something like a giant Boy Scout jamboree taking over this vast grassy plain.
I had a red 4x4 Nissan Patrol turbo diesel that I loved. I loved it so much I named it after Sammy Hagar, who in the 80's you'll recall was known as The Red Rocker, because he always wore red and even wrote a song as a paean to the color.
Sammy and I drove to the top of a 14,000-ft mountain right to the Kazakh side of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. We drove across the open steppe, multiple times. We got stuck in a swamp (you read about that a couple posts ago). I learned about 4wd hi and low and how to drive on "roads" that make the forest service roads in the Cascade Range seem like highways. I drove on highways that make the forest service roads in the Cascade Range seem better than highways. In the city, I could drive as aggressively as I needed to, because he was bright red and had a no-bullshit look. I could say, "Yeah, I'll take out your Mercedes if you won't let me into the traffic stream."
Sammy was awesome. And I miss him.
When we lived in Almaty, I had a job that started at 7 am, so I'd walk through the parks of the city before anyone else was awake. And this being not Greece, most parties were finished and the people home by 5 or 6 am, so I had the place all to myself. It was beautiful and peaceful...
Until I started to realize that every morning Almaty looked abandoned. It was as though every resident of the city had been taken up and dropped whatever they were doing. So I set out to be the crying Indian, in the hopes that if people saw what they were doing, they'd stop.
I began work on an exhibition called Almaty: The Abandoned City. I went out every Saturday and Sunday for a month, shooting from about 5:30 until 7:30 am, taking pictures like this one. It got pretty depressing, because it was so easy to find junk and garbage, and I distinctly remember the moment when I had shot enough when I got excited over finding a huge pile of garbage.
Unfortunately, we were leaving in November, and I wanted to wait until I was sure I could put together an exhibit, so I didn't start looking for a venue until August. And I missed the fall exhibition season. So I may have been crying, but nobody knew about it.
Lest my Kazakhstani friends be offended, know that I remember American cities looking like this, and that what got us to start using garbage cans was a long series of advertising campaigns and exhibitions showing just how much garbage we were throwing out the windows of our cars and dropping in our parks.
On a trip through Italy, we spent a rainy, rainy day in Spoleto. From its belvedere you can see a chunk of the ancient aquaduct as it crosses a valley. But obviously, this post isn't about that.
As my family did whatever it is that they were doing, I wandered the streets looking for Photographs. Sometimes I just look for pictures to take, but on this day, I wanted to Make a Photograph. And I got madder than hell when Appropriate Scenes didn't present themselves. I even started to hate the rain...and I love rain usually, especially for photography. It makes everything soft and evenly lit. And it keeps all the other people away from my scene.
This was a basement workshop with a window that opened about knee level, and which I thought was a charming sight, but it wasn't the Appropriate Scene I wanted. I only took a couple shots and (obviously) didn't bother to position myself to keep the grating out of the scene. The angles are all kinda wonky and it was just a lucky thing that the crossbar blocked the bare light bulb. And it's my favorite photo from the day.
The day wasn't a complete wash out, because we found a trattoria that had a great bean soup, and the cafe made a very nice cappuccino.
It's 6:30 am, on July 4. At sunset the night before, a shepherd with a Kamaz truck pulled my beautiful 4x4 out of the swamp that I had driven it into. Along with a small army of shepherds I had spent the day trying to dig and coax it out of the greasy clay. We spent hours pulling with man power and with horse power to no avail. Now, though, in the peace of early morning, it's resting quietly next to the yurt we rented for the night. We slept in the milk-curing yurt owned by one of the shepherds who'd helped, so we had butter and sour cream and yogurt and kymiz (fermented horse milk) to inform our dreams. Cattle rubbed on the walls of the yurt and on the truck all night. I loved that truck. I miss that truck. I recently learned that it still lives in Kazakhstan, and that the gas cap I lost was finally replaced.
Shot with a Hasselblad 501CM on Bergger 200 film, probably developed in Agfa Rodinal.
I like this one a little better than yesterday's. I think the repeating angles that cross each other make it a stronger image, much closer to what I had in mind.
It was a beautiful day in the forest. Obviously a nearly clear, blue sky, and a temperature that made jeans, hiking shoes and a long-sleeved t-shirt the perfect clothes. I didn't end up hiking as far as I had thought I might, but then, I hadn't expected to get such great views straight out of the parking lot.
After being traumatized by about 10 gazillion people at the Cherry Blossom Festival, I decided I needed a day with very few people. So the following morning I went out to Skyline Drive, and saw very few people.
I'm starting to grow fond of the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic. I finally noticed this winter the spare beauty of leafless trees, showing the underlying structure of the woods.
I was playing around with some film-type presets in Lightroom, and liked what this black & white infrared styled treatment gave the photo. It's not at all what I was looking for when I started, but it's an interesting look to do once in a while.
Have you seen store.bpsphoto.com? You can buy beautiful photographs there, on thick, velvety, handmade paper.
As I looked for photos that others might not see at the Tidal Basin, trying desperately to avoid the shots I saw everyone else taking, I looked down, as I often do in the situation. The contrails streaking across the water make a nice juxtaposition from their usual milieu. (Because that's the fastest way to say what I was thinking.)
Have you been to my store at store.bpsphoto.com yet?
Olive trees are beautiful, gnarly things, some of which can grow large enough to hide an SUV. They also grow very, very old, some may be 2500-3000 years old. I often stop the car to try and get photos of the gnarliness, which Anne says isn't as irritating as it used to be, since I'm much quicker with my DSLR than I ever was with the Hasselblad, but I haven't been as successful as I'd like to be.
I think this is the best photo I have of one, and I'm fairly satisfies with it, but I'd like there to be enough to make a gallery. Guess we'll just have to live in the Mediterranean again someday.
Here's one where film (or my knowledge of what to do with it) would have been far, far superior to digital. I like the look of this log, but the digital photo is way too crisp. In film, I'd have shot it with a Bergger, Efke or Foma product and processed it in something like Rodinal. Unless of course I already had Delta 100 loaded, which I would have processed in Microphen.
But I had a digital camera in my hand. So I made an effort at aging it. Clearly needs more work. Problem is, I don't think I'm even close to what I see in mind. What I see is something like a 1915-20 bridge between pictorialist and literalist photograph, where the details are a little soft, but recognizably photographic. When I get there, if I don't get frustrated and go on a hate-stupid-digital rant and threaten to throw away the computer and the D200 and shoot only LF wooden cameras with 100-year-old lenses, it should be a pretty satisfying moment.
Nikon has a great lens - the 500mm f/8 reflector lens. It looks like a small telescope, because that's what it is. By being a reflector lens with a fixed aperture, it's only a few inches long, rather than the 1/2 meter (20 inches or so) it would have to be if it were a regularly-designed lens. It's old, heavy and very touchy manual focus. With my D200 its focal length equivalent is 750mm, due to the size of the sensor. I've had it for a couple years now, but I don't use it very much, because I haven't been able to think of what to use it for. I decided to just start shooting with it. You learn what a tool is good for when you use it, and I've learned a lot about lenses and cameras by using them indiscriminately until I could see the value of the thing. It's how I learn. So from my balcony, I shot these flowers that are about the size of your thumb and 60 or 80 feet away.
Amongst the things I never imagined I'd see in Greece are mountains with this much snow. It isn't glacial, though it sort of has that look. This will all be gone in a couple weeks, but throughout the winter, the higher mountains of central and northern Greece are covered.
But what this is really about is power lines. You probably can't see it in this small version, but if you saw an 8x10 or 16x20, you'd realize that the mountain is out of focus, making the power lines the subject of the photo.
The only adjustments I've made to this are turning it to grayscale, with a reduction from the blue channel (to cut the haze a little) and some curves work to get the contrast right. The oil paint quality it has is from the quality of the light, the haze and the contours of the rocks. I love it when I get to be in the right place at the right time.